My fave winners in the latest CA Interactive Annual.

Full disclosure: I pretty much copied and pasted all this content from various sites around the web, some from adweek, some from Cannes. Please do not sue me as I’m basically a very nice person.


Overview: Tourette Syndrome is widely misunderstood. The Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada wanted people to comprehend the frustration, randomness and isolation of the condition by actually feeling the lack of control experienced by those living with the disorder. The Foundation worked with Saatchi & Saatchi Canada to launch Surrender Your Say, a campaign in which Twitter users relinquished control of their feed and allowed Tourette tics to be tweeted randomly under their name. It was controversial. It hadn’t been done before. And for a day, thousands felt what it was like to have Tourette Syndrome in front of millions of followers.


Overview: It’s been more than 30 years since American auto and oil industries preempted the original promise of electric cars, and BMW was eager to show New Yorkers that the future of mobility has finally arrived. To build awareness and create anticipation for the new, all-electric BMW i series, BMW transformed a street-level window’s reflection of live traffic on 6th Avenue into an idealistic vision of a world populated by (mostly) electric cars. Four creative agencies collaborated over seven months to design and build the installation, which used digital projection and motion-detection technology to swap BMW i3 and i8 vehicles for the actual cars in the window’s reflection, giving passersby an exhilarating glimpse into the near future.”


Overview: Carly is a young woman living with autism, and is the co-author of the book Carly’s Voice: Breaking Through Autism. To help promote her book, john st. wanted to bring people as close as possible to the feeling of living in Carly’s world. Since autism inhibits “normal” social interaction, the project took the form of an interactive video over the course of which the user gradually loses control, an experience that mimics the loss of control and focus Carly describes in her book. The level of interactivity we are accustomed to in websites is also consciously inhibited, and the site gives us a first-person point of view into Carly’s experience.


Overview: In this innovative app-based holiday card, AKQA sent a clear message to friends, family, clients and beyond: the holidays are best spent with others. Teaming up with the Pacific Chamber Symphony, the agency created an interactive orchestra that joins up to twelve phones and tablets to perform a single song, “Carol of the Bells,” a sort of digital carol to bring people together. Groups of friends can sync their mobile devices and each person is assigned one of twelve musical roles—maybe conductor or cellist. As the carol begins, they play together in harmony. Executive creative director Stephen Clements described the in-house project as “a great process of invention and problem solving. When you have very limited time and resources you make quick decisions and don’t overthink things. It’s more fun that way.”


Overview: With customers increasingly using their smartphones to get the same product information and decor inspiration provided by IKEA’s print catalogs, the global furniture retailer knew a revamp of its iconic mailer, then in its 61st year, was in order. But with over 200 million print copies still effectively serving readers of all ages in every corner of the world, an all-digital approach was premature. McCann New York devised a balanced solution. Working with interactive studio All of Us, the agency created a mobile app companion to the catalog that let readers scan printed images to unlock a whole world of additional online content—expanded product details, photo galleries, how-to videos from designers and more. McCann’s three-pronged UX/design, technological and storytelling overhaul turned the catalog experience into an evolving innovation platform worthy of a brand that “dares to be different.”


Overview: When you’ve already got a cell phone plan, you’re not likely to pay much attention to other offers, no matter how good they might be. Virgin Mobile’s Blinkwashing, an interactive YouTube experience that reacts to the blink of an eye, solves that problem by surprising the viewer into watching. It works by enabling a person’s webcam to scan for eye location and movement to accurately detect when a viewer blinks. Then, with every blink, the video on screen switches, while the dialogue continues uninterrupted. The ad is made up of 25 different films, all perfectly synced for a seamless transition between clips. Mother New York, working with Greencard Pictures and rehabstudio, created completely new technology to let viewers blink their way through an endlessly changing stream of videos detailing the benefits of switching to Virgin Mobile.

Some really good sources to follow for cool ad/web content.

> ahem <

Yours truly is happy to be included on a list from Forbes — “The Top 100 Global Agencies That Know Social Media and Google.”

Full disclosure, however. Am no longer a global agency. Sad to report the closing of’s Auckland, Amsterdam, Berlin and London  offices. Just the one office here in Savannah now. Had to let everybody go.

Yukfest aside, there are some really cool people and agencies on the list you oughta make sure you click on from time to time. My old agency, GSDM, is there. So’s my other alma mater, Fallon. Plus social superstars like Brian Solis and Edward Boches and places like Big Spaceship. Man, this is some seriously good company. Thank you to Forbes and author Scott Goodson (founder of Strawberry Frog) for putting it together.


My Brush with Fame (and an Experiment in Social/Sports Marketing)

I am not a huge NBA fan, but when Kobe Bryant’s agent calls and says “Mr. Bryant would like to speak with you,” you take the call.

He’d read my advertising book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This and just wanted some advice about some marketing stuff. Turns out he’s as nice and normal a guy as you could wanna meet, which is amazing for a superstar many would call the best player on the planet.

So anyway, a coupla weeks back I wrote to him. (Yes, I have the Mamba’s personal email and yes, I am very cool.) I asked him if he’d return the fave and just do a posting on his Facebook account about my new book, Thirty Rooms To Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic. I didn’t want him to sell something he wasn’t a fan of, so I gave him an out. I said, “Hey, all you have to say is ‘I couldn’t put it down,’ which will be true if you never pick it up.” Kobe says, “Sure,” and so I threw the book in the mail.

Keep in mind the dude’s got 14 million “friends.” There are TV networks that would love to have those kinda numbers.

So I’m keepin’ an eye on his Facebook page. Weeks go by, but my short history with him showed that his life as #24 on the Lakers often takes him off the social grid. But two days ago I noticed he posted he was laid up with the flu.

Here’s how famous the guy is. Even when he posts a message as banal as “I’m laid up in bed. Not feeling well. Drinking lots of fluids,” 83,461 people “like” it. And 672 go so far as to share it on their pages. The numbers, to me, seem fairly Malthusian. So I sent him a little nudge. “Mmmm,” I wondered, “if only you had something handy to read.” That seemed to do the trick.

So he posts. And here’s the thing, people. Kobe casts such a long shadow in sports that there are bloggers out there who took the time to post things like “Check out what Kobe Bryant’s reading today.” Even the Daily News (on what, one has to assume, is the slowest news day in recent history) posted: “After scoring 40 points in the Lakers’ loss Tuesday to Indiana while battling the flu, Kobe Bryant spent most of his day off Wednesday resting. ‘Still not feeling well,’ he wrote on his Facebook page. ‘It’s a day in bed for me.’ Bryant also revealed he passed the time reading the book, ‘Thirty Rooms to Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic.’”

Looking through a site called “SocialMention” I note with interest that most of the discussion threads quickly blow past my little book and get back to talking about when Kobe will be back on the court. But a few – a very few – post things like: “If that’s what Kobe’s reading, I’m going to go buy it tomorrow.”

Bottom line? Sales up but not crazy up. And I’m pretty sure it’s not because Kobe’s kind mention of my book on his site didn’t get a trillion eyeballs. It did. My guess is that his audience shows up to talk about basketball, not what he is reading. I could be wrong and so I’ll keep an eye on the sales numbers for Thirty Rooms and do an update later.

In closing, this short exercise in humility: I’ll return the fave and mention a book about him here on my blog. “Hey everybody, I’m sick in bed and reading Kobe Bryant: In His Own Words.”

Boom. Betcha I just sold 2 copies. You’re welcome.

Kobe? Thanks so much for takin’ the time to post about my book. Get better.







The New Creative Person is T-Shaped.

4th edition comes out next February. Cancel all your other plans.

An excerpt from the the upcoming 4th edition of “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.” It’s got a cool new cover drawn, shot, retouched, and designed entirely by a marvelous art director, Keli Linehan, from GSD&M. (She won’t like the way the cover’s reproducing here. It’s all done on a chalkboard, for reals, and it looks way cooler than this low rez file.) You’ll note also the cover includes a new name, my wonderful co-author, Sam Bennett. Sam is a really smart digital strategist, also from GSD&M. I’ve learned a lot from her and was happy when she agreed to help me update Whipple for the digital world. This excerpt includes material from a previous post from this site. (So sue me.)

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In spite of all this change, the two crafts we discussed in the first chapters – copywriting and art direction – these are still the basic tools you’ll need to create work in this new world of analog and digital media. Even if we wake up tomorrow in a Philip K. Dick novel, when it comes to creating advertising or content of any kind, someone’s gonna have to sit down and actually make something and that’ll still probably require the crafts of a writer and an art director.

The crafts are portable. They still matter in the new world, as do the disciplines of branding and positioning. As does being creative. In fact, given the kaleidoscope of stuff competing for the everybody’s attention, creativity is more important than ever. Our core job hasn’t changed. We still have to make things that are so interesting people lean in to see what they are.

None of what goes into creating a great idea changes; but as we’ve seen the output is different.

Today, a creative person is expected to be able to come up with everything from an ad to a website, a mobile application to a TV show, and a tweet to a radio spot. Where once Bernbach’s original teams of two could tackle all the traditional media, creating for a world that includes digital requires more skill sets than just copywriting and art direction.

For big cool projects that involve online creative or digital content of any kind, you’ll need to have at your side interactive producers, digital designers and developers, as well as IA and UX people (information architects and user experience). Where briefings once happened in a quiet room with four or five people, today you might find groups of 15 or more. And to be an effective member of these new teams, you’ll need to be what some call a “T-shaped” person.

T-shaped is just a funny name used to describe a person who has very deep skills in one area (the deep vertical stroke of the T) as well as the ability to collaborate across disciplines they’re not an expert in (that would be the horizontal stoke). Today’s most successful creatives are a sort of hybrid, capable of expert contributions in their chosen fields of art direction or copywriting, but fluent enough in other digital disciplines to collaborate effectively, occasionally even executing things on their own. The new creatives have both depth and breadth and today their job description isn’t “writing or art directing cool ads and TV spots.” It’s bigger. Your job is to create entertaining or useful experiences for your clients’ brands. That might involve an ad; it might not.

“I’m not even sure that the future is a writer-and-art-director team anymore,” says Weiden CD Tony Davidson in Spencer’s Breaking In. “I get a sense that the kids coming through want to do a lot more. They want to be an animator, they want to be a director, they want to be a writer. I love the idea of hybrid-ideas person who can move between disciplines.” (XXXX FOOTNOTE)

The thing is, when you can become conversant in other disciplines you’ll be a better creative and a better team member. And then, when you become fluent in other disciplines and can even execute on occasion, you’ll become the sort of go-to “creative alchemist” every agency on the planet is trying to hire.

In Breaking In, Google’s Valdean Klump describes just how valuable this wider skill set is:

“What impresses me most is the ability to make things. More and more these days, young people are coming into the business able to shoot their own commercials, create websites, program games, take photos, make animations, build Facebook apps, and generally act as one-person ad agencies. This makes CDs salivate because getting ideas off of the page is at least as hard as getting them on paper in the first place … If you can make things and make them well, you will never be unemployed.” (XXXX FOOTNOTE)

Having been a CD at an agency that was hiring, I remember wanting to recruit only the most techno-geeked-out, mobile-ready, code-slinging web brats I could find. On the other hand, I wanted writers or art directors who knew how to take a blank sheet of paper and make something interesting and beautiful happen. The place where these two skills overlapped seemed to be the sweet spot. The ones who can do both of these things? They’re the creatives of the future.

Now if you’re already in the business, as either a “traditional” or “digital creative” (a distinction that’s almost obsolete already), there are many things you can do to align yourself with the direction the industry’s going.

For now, I find myself pushing both traditionals and digitals towards the middle. Pushing traditional creatives to use, study, and learn the emerging technologies. And pushing digital creatives to learn how to create things that are delightful and conceptual on paper; things that are still cool even before any production happens.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Having come up in this business during the ‘80s and ‘90s, I think I’m probably pretty good at looking at a brand brief, figuring out the single most important thing to say, and then making something interesting happen: in print, on TV, outdoor or radio. I kinda know what I’m doing there.

But I won’t kid myself. I’m not what they call a digital native, someone who grew up with technology. I’m a digital immigrant, with a heavy enough old-world accent even the guys at the corner deli can’t understand me. Yet I am not content to sit on Ellis Island wondering what delights await discovery on the new digital shores. I’m swimmin’ across, people. Meaning, I stay very busy learning everything I can.

I am busy actually using the new media. I have an online presence and I’m busy blogging about this stuff, tweeting about it, and watching “webinars” (I still can’t say that word with a straight face): online seminars broadcast from cool places like Boulder Digital Works. I’m on (where you can teach yourself Flash and Dreamweaver) and a whole bunch of other cool websites for inspiration and education. All of this so I can learn the new media, experience the new technologies, and help take my clients’ brands out into the world to meet their customers. I do all this hoping my self-guided education will push me towards that sweet spot in the middle.

Now, if I were a digital native, someone whose deep part of the T-shape is expertise in, say, HTML5, CSS, and Javascript? I’d get me a couple of the latest One Show annuals (insist on the kind made out of “paper”) as well as any December issues of Communication Arts’ Advertising Annuals I could find. Then I’d turn off my cellphone, put my feet up, and read ‘em cover to cover. I’d inhale them. And then I’d go find some more.

I’d probably start by studying the print of the ‘80s Fallon McElligott, I’d watch the TV of the ‘90s Goodby, and I’d understand how they tell an integrated story at today’s Crispin. I’d learn how to write headlines as good as the work Abbott Meade Vickers did for The Economist (page XXXX). I’d learn how to say something provocative in a 10-word sentence. I’d learn how to tell an interesting story in 30 seconds.

I’d push myself towards the middle.

Ultimately, for any open job position in its creative department, an agency’s gonna hire someone who is – drum roll – creative. But the tie’s gonna go to the person who can express creativity over the widest variety of media.

Before we move on talk about this whole idea of content, there’s one more job position now available in many agencies, one that’s neither art director or copywriter – a profession called creative technology.

The creative tech is trained to be skilled in using new media technologies in the service of branding, advertising, and marketing. This person introduces emerging technologies into the concepting process and is involved from briefing through development to final delivery. Whether it’s bringing a technical understanding of location-based platforms, designing communities, or executing Facebook applications, the creative tech helps turn the main campaign idea into cool online consumer experiences. In addition to blue-skying concepts along with the art director-copywriter team, she may build prototypes to test ideas, do some coding, or be a liaison to the client’s IT stakeholders.

A creative tech is even more helpful when she also has some polished skills of copywriting or art direction. So if you have any tech-geek in you, “CT” may be the way you want to go. Not a bad idea considering the whole world is Matrix-ing into 1’s and 0’s. We’re going to need people who specialize in applying all the digital media technologies coming online every week.

Mystery Whipple-Reading Girl To Win Early Copy of Sullivan’s 2nd Book.

Who is she?

A friend from New York sent me this picture, snapped while on board a New York City subway.

I don’t know who the woman is, but obviously she has great taste in books and I have every reason to believe she’d love a free signed copy of my second book, Thirty Rooms To Hide In: Insanity, Addiction, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the Shadow of the Mayo Clinic.

I’d send her one today, but I don’t know who she is. Does anybody? Could you please use the social buttons directly below and ask around? Thanks all.   –Luke

Lessons from Day 2 @ SXSW. How To Listen. How To Speak.

I want you to read something my old friend, Jelly Helm, posted in his blog back in June of ‘09. He’d attended a conference and had this observation:

“Also interesting to me about the conference is the role technology and Attention Deficit Disorder play. Everyone tweeting and multitasking and blogging. Does it add more value to the conference? Does it spread learning out into the world? Is the world even listening? How does it change our individual experience of the conference? How does it affect our collective experience? … I tried un-plugging for a while and actually find myself more engaged when there are several streams competing for my attention. Also find myself listening harder for nuggets that may make for good things to share, which seems to be focusing me in a way that passive note-taking doesn’t.”

I’m not sure where I land on this topic, this idea of trying to pay attention to competing streams of information. Check out this guy.

I snapped this picture of him during one of Saturday’s sessions. He’s checkin’ his iPhone for either email, phone messages, text messages or his Twitter feed. He’s got his laptop open and from its screen I can tell he’s not taking notes and has open what appear to be two social streams. Meanwhile, the thing he paid $700 to see is happening 50 yards away and just out of his line of sight.

Trust me, I am not making fun of this guy. I do this too. I do it partly because it’s fun; it’s the digital version of passing notes in class. I do it partly because I don’t want to miss anything (even though I end up missing part of the very session I’m attending). But in the end, I think this kind of wide-open filterless information inhaling is good — during the learning phase. Sucking in vast amounts of information, early in the process, I think is beneficial to  problem-solving. But left unchecked, being plugged into competing streams of information softens — then kills — the problem-solving and creative process. At some point, true intelligence and true creativity require red-laser-beam focus.

Unfortunately, I don’t believe much of corporate America ever remembers to employ the laser-beam-focus part of the process. Workers today suffer from what Lynda Stone has dubbed “continuous partial attention.” In trying to pay attention to everything, we pay attention to nothing.

“Employees in info-intensive companies waste 28% of their time on unnecessary emails and other interruptions.” –Basex, reported in New York Times

“People who frequently check their email test less intelligent than people high on marijuana.” –Sam Anderson.

Of these, I prefer this more classic observation: “The hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither.”

But for today, I’m with this guy. I’ll be down there on the Hilton’s carpeting chasing all the rabbits. That’s okay. Me and my friend here, we’re in the learning phase at South By and we’re just tryin’ to take it all in.

Well, that’s a little bit about listening. As for speaking? I’m sure there are many excellent speakers at this conference but because of my schedule or just dumb luck, I haven’t seen them yet. Folks, if you take nothing away from this conference, know this: powerful and persuasive public speaking is crucial to anyone wishing to spread their ideas. I don’t care how cool your content is, if you suck as a speaker, it’s over. People will walk out because there is too much cool stuff out there competing for their attention.

When next you speak, get up there and belt it out: with passion, with clarity, and a burning desire to get the idea that’s boiling inside your head into the heads of your audience. I’ll close with this marvelous observation from Mark Fenske, a monstrously good ad professor at VCU Brandcenter.

USA Today’s Ad-Meter: Man, That’s One Big-Ass Focus Group.

Well, I went 50-50 on my predictions for what would show up in the Top 10 of USA Today’s Ad Meter.

I guessed kinda right that a Bud Light spot would make it in. I guessed that another user-generated Doritos spot would make the top 10. That Weiden would a cool spot for Coke. That Pepsi would do something cool (the mind-reading one). And of course, the CareerBuilder monkeys would show up and win. And I was also right in guessing that Crispin (as much as I love ‘em and I do love ‘em) that Crispin would step in it with a misfire.

You can read all about it on USA Today’s Ad Meter page. Here’s their Top 10.
1. Bud Light “Dog Sitter”
2. Doritos “Pug’s Revenge”
3. Volkswagen “Darth Vader”
4. Doritos “Grandpa resurrected”
5. Pepsi Max “Can to girlfriend’s head”
6. Career Builder “Chimps return”
7. Pepsi Max “Reading thoughts”
8. NFL “TV show clips of fans”
9. Bridgestone “Beaver pays back good deed”
10. Coca-Cola “Border crossing guards”

I spent the entire game screwin’ around on Twitter and pretty much had a blast watchin’ the game with thousands of other ad geeks. (Best two tweets, both below, were about how bad the half-time show was.)

I had one eye on the spots and the other on a Twitter feed that was scrollin’ faster than the movie-credits on a late-night rerun. Since I pick the people I follow, I think my Twitter buddies picked pretty much the right spots; at least compared to the spots chosen by that august group of judges, the Ad Meter council.

Here’s my thing about the Ad Meter. It’s basically a big-ass focus group and we all know what happens in those sad windowless rooms with their plastic plants, M&Ms, and mall shoppers, people who were paid a small amount of money to feel temporarily in charge of something.  If I may get even more elitist here for a moment, here’s what one of their “judges” had to say about her criteria.

“I just like it to be funny. Sometimes I don’t even pay attention to what the ad is about, just that it is funny,” says Brenda Moore, 51, of Bakersfield, Calif., an Ad Meter panelist. She has reason to want to laugh. There are rumblings about cutbacks at her company. “My philosophy is pray on it and hope things turn out your way.”

Yes, I’m elitist. And I will be an elitist until the day I die. Because I simply refuse to adjust everything downward to appeal to what passes for the “common man,” which in America is basically anyone who watches Fox News. I can’t do it. Won’t do it. I don’t believe hitting people in the crotch with a can of Pepsi is funny. If that’s elitist, sue me.

But I can’t be that elitist. I laughed when the chimps wrecked that guys car in the CareerBuilder spot. Still, I wasn’t one of the many online goin’ on about “Man, all the Super Bowl spots suck!” Dude, … the half-time show? That sucked. Or the local commercials that ran during half-time, they sucked. In my opinion, spots on every Super Bowl are generally a little better than what plays the rest of the year. (Why clients and agencies try so hard for the Super Bowl is a mystery I wrote about in a previous posting.)

In America’s defense I was glad to see there wasn’t the same high level of sophomoric humor this year. Nothing as puerile as the “farting horses” (from Bud Light  a few years back), nor was there any poop humor or pee-pee jokes. I was also heartened to see the Ad Meter judges correctly put that annual national embarrassment of GoDaddy at the bottom of the list.

My personal top two picks were both from VW. Damn I loved that kid in the Darth Vader costume; such a good physical actor he was. And the animated “Beetle” was also stellar. (Ex GSDM-er Mark Peters did that one.) They tied in a great YouTube page takeover that was also pretty cool.

The other spot that just KILLED me was the Chrysler spot. Damn. It was a bit of a “hybrid,” if you will, in that it started off as a copy-driven brand spot, then at about forty seconds it became a visual story, and at the very end, it’s a celeb spot, and then a product spot. W+K, I bow to thee.

I liked the “Border Guards” one for Coke, but it bugs me that it’s kinda like a spot done in India for some brand of booze. But, people, there is NO way in hell Weiden copied anything. This is just another one of those unfortunate duplications that happen from time to time in this business.

For instance, it’s no slam on Doritos that years ago GSDM did a One Show silver-winning spot for 7-Eleven (below), complete with the same creepy finger-licking. This shit happens. (Well, sometimes it’s intentional, like those horrible Verizon ads which are clones of “Mac vs. PC.”)

[pro-player width='500' height='380' type='video' image=''][/pro-player]

Skechers (if that’s how you spell it) did something horrible onscreen and I’ll never get those thirty seconds back. And while I didnt like seeing Crispin tank with that bad Groupon spot, c’mon guys, you shoulda seen that one misfiring from miles away.

In the end of course, the big cool new thing in Super Bowl 45 was the undercurrent of the web running through it all. It wasn’t the explosion of social media tie-ins I was expecting, but you could see a change beginning to happen. Social media was used before the game to build buzz and then during the game to redirect viewers back online.

“This is the new water cooler,” said Ann Mukherjee, Frito-Lay CMO. “Digital space is helping to re-create that human behavior of talking at the water cooler.”

Final note. I’ve been in the business a long time and I can tell you for a fact that nobody ever gathered around any fuckin’ water cooler. Where the hell did water coolers come from?

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POSTSCRIPT: Does it PAY to air a spot on the Super Bowl? Article in Austin American-Statesman where we discuss this question at some length.

How I Use Twitter.

If we were to meet at a party, the first thing you would notice is that I am not there, because I never go to parties. I am an introvert and I never “do things.”

I also take great pains to avoid ever having to “chat.” I find small talk makes me uncomfortable. In fact, given the choice, I would prefer to have Pop Rocks placed under my eyelids and my eyelids sewn shut with barbed wire and catgut.

That said, I don’t “chat” much online either. However, I am not a complete misanthrope. I like to know what my friends are doing; what interests them. So, what chatting I do take part in, I do on Facebook. But actual chatting is live and interactive, so what I do on Facebook doesn’t qualify as chatting either. It’s more like listening to humanity through the walls. In fact, I feel guilty when someone sees that I am live on Facebook and sends me a text: “Hey, how ya doin’?”

The thing is, I don’t want interactivity. Which is why Facebook is perfect for introverts who actually like the human race. It is as if I can watch my beloved species from a high window; I can see what they are doing but bear no actual risk of interaction. I’m pretty sure this isn’t why most people like Facebook, but it’s where I net out.

Twitter, on the other hand, I use for learning. I hear many people dismiss Twitter by saying, “I don’t give a tin shit that u r having coffee @ Starbux.” With that part, I agree. But the thing is, I don’t follow people who post pabulum like that. I follow people who are out there pushing great content. I follow people who post links to great articles, cool videos, websites, SlideShare presentations. Then, when I log on to my Tweetdeck, it’s kinda like I am scrolling through a Table of Contents to a great magazine, one that’s being published every minute. When someone follows me, I always follow back. But to keep my list interesting and “@ Starbux free”, I go through my list every other day or so and unfollow anyone who posts useless stuff.

Yes, I know Breaking Bad is good but I could I puh-lease have the half-second of my life back that you stole by posting such useless crap? Thanks.

Report From SXSW Interactive: “I See Dead Ad Jobs.”

I was born in the year 1954 when stamps were three cents.

If you thought, “Wow, three cents??” you’re a digital immigrant like me. You’re a digital native if you thought, “What are stamps?”

Unfortunately, there is a third group: digital rejectors — you’ve met them. The eye-rollers; the shoulder-shruggers; the print and TV addicts who need to go to some sort of media rehab. For the purposes of today’s article, we’ll dub them digital douchebags, but no laughter please; we’re at their funeral and it isn’t polite.

Worse, they don’t realize they’re dead. Like Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense, they continue to wander the brand landscape laminating their portfolios and waiting for a fax with the news they got into the local Addys. As my friend Kathy Hepinstall observed, there used to be a small bit of Dick-Van-Dyke-ian charm to a creative person being a technophobe; today, it simply means you’re a digital douchebag.

Full disclosure: I am a digital d-bag. Now in recovery. No one likes a laminated print ad more than I. But the first step in recovery is admitting your old print portfolio is basically Confederate money.

Case in point: From my collection of laminated ads, I offer this one. I wrote it in 1994 for a new website created by Time, Inc. called Pathfinder. Oh, this was the new-new thing, folks. Pathfinder allowed you to use your computer to look up text articles. Kid you not – text articles.

A print ad I did in 1994 for a new website. I still love the print medium for its clarity and simplicity. Headline reads: “Pathfinder Personal Edition brings back just the information you’re interested in.”

I still like the ad but the point here is that it was written in 1994, a brief fifteen years ago; when Netscape Navigator was the big browser and Mortal Kombat II was the hot game. Fifteen years later, Netscape is history, dusty MKII cartridges are available at curiosity shops and, up the street at 7-Eleven, they’re now selling Farmville gift cards which allow you to “buy” “acres” on a “digital farm” and then bother your “friends” on Facebook with that “information.”


(Oops. My d-bag was showing there for a second and I apologize. The thing is, we don’t have to like every nook and cranny of the web in order to embrace it.)

Here’s the point. Not only is the acceleration itself accelerating, the bus has left. Digital natives have most of the nicer seats, we immigrants are hanging on the sides, and for traction under the tires we’re all using the digital douchebags. This just in: the Visigoths are not at the gates. They are in your kitchen eating your lunch.


Okay, so now we’re doing a slow dissolve from 1994 to April 2010. (Wavy lines, wavy lines.) And we’re in Austin, walking into SXSW Music/Film/Interactive. Here, where interactive once occupied only a wing of the four-floor Convention Center, it has engulfed the entire building and much of the adjoining Hilton. I enter bearing a Gold Pass, invited by my friend Damon Webster to chair a Core Conversation titled: “How Does an Advertising Pro Adapt to New Communication Techniques?”

On my iPhone, the “mysxsw” app reveals the details about our session’s focus: “With the advertising landscape changing at the speed of light, how do the traditional advertising pros adapt? Does the market now belong only to the tech savvy? How do you migrate what you know in other media over to 2.0? We’ll be gathering to share ideas, generate new ones, network, and then share the information digitally.”

I think it brave of Damon to host such a session. He admits he is not a guru. Once a producer on the agency side he’s managed to migrate his own considerable skill set online, creating among other things a site called “The First Stop in Your Photographic Life.” What he brings to the table today (as I hope I do) are the fundamental creative skills learned over years in the advertising business. But we’re here in the eye of the digital hurricane today not to preach but to listen.

By 12:30, Conference Room J on the 4th floor of the Hilton is packed. In the crowd we see some folks we’ve invited. David Slayden from Boulder Digital Works is here. So are a dozen kids from VCU Brandcenter’s newest track, Creative Technology. At my side is Nicole McKinney, digital native and friend from GSD&M, who’s capturing everything people are saying while keeping an eye on our Twitter feed (which captures what they’re thinking).

That’s Damon. I loved his tweet advertising the session. “I see dead ad jobs.” I thought it made a good title, too.

After our opening remarks, the session begins with a few longish speeches, people talking about their own companies, and the Twitter feed gives us our first lesson in adapting to the new world — which is: “No commercials. Let us talk.”

Like consumers everywhere, the people here don’t want to be the audience. They want to be the actors. They crave interactivity and want an immediate response. Which they get. We start moving the microphone faster, encouraging people to step into the middle of the circle, say their piece and move on — itself another lesson. In today’s back-and-forth with consumers we need to worry less about message strategy and more about a conversation strategy. This isn’t an audience; it’s a community.


The microphone is passed to a young woman, a recruiter named Andrea Andrews

“The people with traditional skills still have some catching up to do on the digital side,” Andrea observes. On the other hand, she continues, people with digital expertise don’t always have the skills associated with traditional media like TV. “You need tech skills, yes, but agencies still need storytellers.”

Andrea says most of the calls she gets are from agencies looking for “about a 70/30 split in digital skills versus traditional. A ratio that, to me, represents the ideal candidate, actually.”

As she speaks, I am reminded of a recent interview of Avatar director, James Cameron. Asked what permanent changes technology has made in filmmaking, Cameron answered, “Filmmaking is not going to ever fundamentally change. It’s about storytelling.” Which may also explain why some of the Star Wars prequels kinda sucked — it was special effects over storytelling. (Storytelling as metaphor here leans a bit to a “push” platform, but you see my point.)

The microphone is passed to a young man from BBDO Canada.

“If you want to adapt to the new world, you need to understand it. And if you’re not actually on Twitter, if you’re not on Facebook, if you’re not uploading videos to YouTube, well, you’re not digital.”

He goes on: “I’ve been watching movies for years and I talk a lot about movies. But I have no idea how to make a movie. Just because I consume content like that doesn’t mean I know how to create it.”

Another attendee agrees, weighing in later via email: “A lifetime of TV watching helped make me well-versed in broadcast advertising. But now I need to acquire the same amount of exposure to digital content in order to become as savvy with it, to understand its nuances.”

It is advice we hear over and over again throughout the session. Yes, the digital waters are deep and cold, but the answer isn’t to tiptoe down the steps into the pool, torturing yourself every razor-cold inch of the way. Dive in, headfirst, off the deep end.

In fact, most folks suggested going for a one-and-a-half; do a cannonball; risk a bellyflop. In the online space, a sense of play is important, and part of play is failure; the skinned knee, the black eye. Everyone, to a person, said to push past the pain and “fail forward, fail harder, fail gloriously.” Whatever flavor of fail you get, our group said, walk it off and go for it again.

I expected the people giving all this great advice in today’s group to be the goateed and the tattooed — Gen Y’s, full of ironic remove — but that was just my own 3¢-stamp world-view talking again. A woman who could be your mom has the mike now and she’s telling the audience she’s frankly a little tired of that deer-in-the-headlights look some creatives give her when she assigns a job with digital components.

“Get over it, you know? It’s not like I’m some expert. I fail a lot, but I’m doin’ it.”

It appears to be as Kathy Hepinstall said it was. In her talk about attending Hyper Island’s master class she observed, “When it comes to digital there’s not an age problem, only a curiosity problem.”


Years ago, again in 1994, Lee Clow was our guest at Fallon’s creative retreat. We met at an old hunting lodge on a lake in northern Wisconsin and to this day I remember Lee leaning against the fireplace as he talked about Apple, talking about the changes wrought by this amazing company and what they meant for traditional creatives like us.

“Throughout history, the technology always comes first. It’s just technology for awhile. Until the day we artists inherit it.”

And so it goes. Television sets came along and for years all TV advertising sucked — until the artists inherited it. Same with radio. And now it’s time we artists fully inherit the technology wrought by Tim Berners-Lee.

This advice was echoed by everyone in our smart audience. Don’t wait till it’s raining to build an Ark. The web has made creating content as easy as accessing it. “The tools are all around you,” said one. “Pick them up.” Just do it. Embrace the learning curve. Don’t worry about being an expert because in this space you never will be. You need to adapt what’s been called a permanent beta mentality.

Watch, too, for old mentality creeping back in. So warned David Gillespie in a brilliant speech I found online where he described the “classic McLuhan-esque mistake of appropriating the shape of the previous technology as the content of the new technology.” Many early efforts in digital did exactly this; direct mail became email; billboards were resized as banners. My friend Stephen Land here at GSD&M agrees, calling digital efforts which don’t leverage the interactivity of the platform mere “print-eractive.” But this was understandable, says Gillespie, because at the time the alternative was standing still. Now it’s time to push through.


This is how we learn. By just doing it. In fact, this cool quotation I just wikied makes the point: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” It’s from some guy named Confucius, probably an ECD at Tribal or something.

How you do-and-understand is your business. For now, I tender this small list from our talkative group at SXSW as a starting point.

• Embrace low fidelity. Make things yourself. Example: Boone Oakley’s YouTube website. A junior creative team did it.

• Start your own blog, Twitter account, or video channel. Example: A Twitter account called Shit My Dad Says launched just last fall was recently optioned for TV by CBS, and last week (July, 2010) the book was #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list.

• My partner, Damon Webster, said: “Get yourself an HD camera. Learn Final Cut Pro. There isn’t going to be a two-day class that will change your life. Put the work in and make it happen. If you don’t have the experience, make the experience.”

• Take a Flash class and learn the language. Download apps. Play with tools like Gowalla and foursquare. Click, you analog bastards, click!

• Start a never-ending education online, today.

To aid you in your education, Damon and I asked everyone at our session (as well as in the Twitter and Facebook universe) to send us their favorite websites, those great places where they get education and inspiration. We gathered all those URLs and (for now) have parked them all on Damon’s website. Visit for a full clickable list. I have my shortlist of faves listed in the Blogroll over on the right-hand side of my home page here on


Okay, we’ve heard all the warning bells. Yes, we know 100 million videos are uploaded to YouTube every day. Yes, we know Facebook’s population is now bigger than Japan’s. And yes, we read how Fast Company predicted “ad agency executive” will be among six jobs that won’t exist in 2016. Fine. Enough already. It’s time to remember what we traditional creatives bring to the party.

As a traditional creative, I know the fundamentals of presenting brands in compelling ways to the right people at the right time. I can write. I can think clearly. I can condense a complicated brief down to a few words and then architect the information into the short flow of a 30-second commercial. I can make a 3×5 space interesting. I am creative, which is something they don’t teach at Hyper Island and you couldn’t learn it if they did. I have the fundamentals, and the thing is, there are no new fundamentals.

So it’s a fantastic time to be in the business, traditional or digital be damned. Creativity matters now more than ever. We can’t buy people’s attention anymore. We can’t keep interrupting our way into their lives. We now have to be so stinking interesting that people put down what they’re doing to come over and see what we’re all about.

In fact, Alex Bogusky said recently that for the first time in history the most important entity in the whole media world could feasibly be the ad agency, being as we are at the nexus of where people who spend money for brands connect with people who spend money on brands.

But it ain’t all unicorns and kittens for traditional creatives. The ROI on our innovation is survival. And there is no safety either in declaring traditional a “specialty.” (“Well, we’ll just do the TV, print, and outdoor and we’ll team up with the digital guys to finish the campaign.”) Ask the Chief Financial Officer at your agency if she can keep paying for two groups of creatives — traditional and digital. She can’t.

So what do we do?

Well, this time let’s dissolve back to the year 1519. (Wavy lines, wavy lines.) Cortez and his marauders have come to pillage and destroy Mexico. The way forward is unknown. The size of the enemy, unknown. So to rally his men, the dude gives a pep talk of just three words. “Burn the ships.”

He removes the option of going back.

What if you burned your ships? What if you had to advertise a brand and you couldn’t use TV and print? Don’t ask me. I don’t know the answer. But I do know it’s probably time to burn the ships and step into the jungle.